Humility is the best policy. It’s either all-too-apt, or an instance of being on the high end of the Dunning-Kruger skills continuum.

It’s better to be thought of at that high end, and overzealously self-deprecating, than actually at the low end of the continuum and comporting oneself as an ass.

I’m thinking of a new judgmental trap, however: The Dunning Macleod Effect. I name it after economist H. Dunning Macleod, of course.

10672307_833793376655015_7764855380977681825_nMacleod was one of his time’s most lucid writers on economics. He was also fantastically knowledgeable about the history of the science and the practice of finance — far in excess of most of his better-thought-of contemporaries. He knew what he knew, too. No false humility. But this self-knowledge not only encouraged him to make some important and quite sensible claims that ran completely contrary to the accepted paradigm of his day, it also emboldened him to think that every one of his paradigm-shifting notions was just as valuable as the rest. And he was occasionally wrong — sometimes spectacularly so; more often he got close to the truth, and then veered off at the last moment, making his error more noticeable if not more intolerable.

Unfortunately, his self-confident iconoclasm signaled to his peers that they could safely ignore nearly everything he said, dismissing his good ideas along with the bad.

All most readers took from Macleod was his suggested name change for the discipline, from “political economy” to “economics.” That proved his only substantial legacy. Everything else that he was right about had to enter the tradition from other sources. (Though it is worth noting that Herbert Spencer’s best essay on economics, “State Tampering With Money and Banks,” was a review of one of Dunning Macleod’s many treatises, a notable expansion on his ideas.)

Thus the Dunning Macleod Effect: discouraging a necessary degree of self-criticism while encouraging hyper-criticism and even dismissal by others. It’s as if breaking a paradigm taboo uncorks the inner crank while corking up the staid status quo.